Why is art a great way to break down barriers? It engages our humanity and reveals common ground between cultures.
The didjeridoo is a wind instrument that originated in Australia around 1500 years ago. Traditionally harvested from trees that have been hollowed out by termites, each didjeridoo possesses a distinct acoustic and unique personality. A particular instrument produces its own very limited range of notes with an enormous range of tone color, depending on the shaping of the player’s tongue and vocal tract.
The didjeridoo has strange inflections: earthy, primal and yet otherworldly. Sometimes the primal is what is required to express basic and deep longings in the human spirit. There are sounds and images that cut across cultures and seem to speak to something buried in a long distant ancestral memory. Perhaps we find a “home” in a foreign culture that nurtures us in a way we never imagined. Art outside our own cultural language often elicits a palpable and mysterious reaction.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sing the Hebrew prayer Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, with an interpolated Arabic verse, as an invocation at a multicultural concert. I am an Anglo-Saxon Protestant who was raised on classical orchestral music and fell in love with opera because it spoke to me with a human voice. These cultures are not my own, nor do they belong to many who were in the audience that evening. In addition, the combination of Hebrew and Arabic is controversial, a bridge that many people are not yet willing to make.
As I sang, without accompaniment in darkness, I felt the music of the Hebrew and Arabic languages, both of which cry out so beautifully and painfully, carry me to the edge of emotion. I felt the audience meet me in that place. Words fail, but I was the song and it was me, raw and primal. Cultures were fused and transcended, if just for a few minutes, lost in a deep yet hopeful lament for the brokenness of humanity as it reaches out in prayer.
Have you ever allowed art to take you somewhere new? Have you been overwhelmed by emotion in the presence of art or been surprised by it? Have you explored new cultures and understood others better through the arts?